Bomb the Suburbs:
The Western Civilization Escape the Neat Lawns and Flags for the Montrose Indie-Rock 'Hood

The Western Civilization pic #1
(l to r) Reggie O'Farrell, Rachel Hansbro, Anthony Schillaci,
Gretchen Schmaltz, Sara Carter. Photo by J. Hart.
The suburbs practically breed good music. Seriously -- without the 'burbs, neither punk nor indie-rock would exist, at least not in their current forms. So it shouldn't be a surprise when a band like The Western Civilization comes out of the land of manicured lawns and neighborhood associations and manages to be at once unique and mind-blowingly good.
The Civilization's exploded seemingly fully-formed out of Far North Houston (Kingwood, Humble, Spring) with Letters of Resignation, an amalgam of classic pop songwriting and Saddle Creek-style baroque indie-rock; gorgeous harmonies, bittersweet lyricism, odd instruments (glockenspiel in the house...), and layer upon layer of jangly/roaring guitars. And damn, is it good.
Mind you, the band's story is intertwined pretty much inextricably with that of its label, indie outfit Mia Kat Empire Records. Guitarist/vocalist/studio guy Reggie O'Farrell also runs the label, along with ex-Nautical Mile/current-Mayapples guitar guy Matt Ellis, wife/accountant Amanda Ellis, and dirty job-doer Sonia Parga (along with expatriate Texan member Rhinestone Fargus), and the whole crew is working hard to create their own talented little musical community within Houston's ever-splintered scene.
Given the connections between the band and the label, it was only natural that when SCR had a chat over coffee with The Western Civilization (O'Farrell, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Rachel Hansbro, bassist Sara Carter, drummer Anthony Schillaci, and keyboardist/vocalist Gretchen Schmaltz), the whole Mia Kat crew (minus absent member Fargus) came along, as well.
The Western Civilization plays Friday, May 11th at Walter's on Washington (4215 Washington, Houston, TX. 77007), along with Explorers and The Church of Philadelphia.

SCR: So is this the whole band?
Reggie O'Farrell: Matt and Amanda are the other part of Mia Kat Empire. They're my counterparts.
Gretchen Schmaltz: Yeah, the band is Anthony, Sara, Rachel, Reggie, and me.
SCR: Okay. I'm glad you guys beat me here, 'cause if I was trying to save a table, I think I would've really underestimated. It would've been bad.
Reggie: Yeah; we were out looking at some warehouse space, so we just all ended up over here.
SCR: For what?
Reggie: For the record label. And for a recording studio and a screen-printing shop and...
SCR: You guys are based in Kingwood, right?
Reggie: Unfortunately.
Matt Ellis: Temporarily.
SCR: So you're moving down here, then?
Reggie: Yeah.
SCR: Where were you looking?
Reggie: There's a place over by the Last Concert Cafe -- Sterrett Street Studios.
SCR: Yeah...I saw that place was open now, I guess. I thought there was somebody else in there...
Reggie: They have a huge space downstairs that's open, and a couple of smaller ones upstairs. We're just trying to figure out how to make it all work.
The Western Civilization record cover
SCR: So, the people in the band, again -- Reggie, Gretchen, Rachel, Sara, and Anthony. And the label people are Matt and Amanda?
Gretchen: Sonia's our Mia Kat Employee, but you know her.
SCR: So you're the only employee? They get to tell you what to do all the time?
Anthony Schillaci: Actually, she tells us what's goin' down.
Reggie: [laughs] That's usually how it goes.
SCR: I'm actually kind of amazed you guys have so many people but you can all coordinate something like this. That's gotta be kind of nightmarish.
Anthony: So are we. [laughter]
Reggie: That's one of Sonia's many skills.
Sonia Parga: Thank you...
Sara Carter: She called everyone like twenty times today.
Sonia: I gave everyone a MySpace message with directions and a link to the funniest YouTube video I've ever seen in my whole life. I'll forward it to you.
SCR: Which one's that?
Sonia: It's an instructional video on body language. It's pretty awesome.
SCR: Ah, okay -- I thought it might be the Alanis Morrisette thing. [laughter]
Gretchen: What is that one?
Rachel Hansbro: It's the greatest thing I've ever seen. She covers "Humps," by Black-Eyed Peas.
Sara: But if you're not watching the video, just the song sounds really beautiful, until you realize what it is, and you're like, "wait -- what did she just say?"
Reggie: And there's a video for it...
Gretchen: That's hilarious.
Sonia: I give mad props to her for bringing it out into everyone's attention how stupid the lyrics are.
SCR: Yeah, that was the thing -- I was listening to it, and I was thinking, "wow, I never realized how crappy this song is." [laughter]
Gretchen: I must say that I did realize it.
SCR: I was lulled in by the beats and the funkiness, I dunno... It suckered me.
Sara: It tricked you!
SCR: It did. So...everybody still lives in Kingwood, then?
Gretchen: I don't; I live in the Heights now.
Anthony: I would never move to Kingwood. Ever.
Gretchen: He lives... [to Anthony] kind of in Spring, right?
Anthony: I live in Spring. Like five minutes away from Old Town Spring.
Rachel: We've got Kingwood, Humble, Spring, and the Heights.
Reggie: And homeless.
Rachel: And homeless.
SCR: Who's homeless? [Reggie raises his hand] If you're homeless, where are you staying?
Reggie: Um...sometimes at their house, sometimes at their house, sometimes at her house. [points to various members of the band/label] Sometimes in my van.
SCR: A nomad, I guess?
Reggie: Yeah. Wherever I can be.
Rachel: He's a thousand miles from home.
SCR: I thought you were all more centralized, I guess, in Kingwood, but since you're scattered all over the place, how did the band start?
Rachel: We just knew each other.
Anthony: That's a lie.
Reggie: Me and Rachel knew each other for a while, a couple of years, and we knew Gretchen, as well, for a short amount of time.
Rachel: We worked together.
Anthony: They dragged me into this like two weeks after I met her.
Sara: We played our first show after one practice.
SCR: How long have you guys been together?
Gretchen: Two years.
Reggie: Yeah.
SCR: I was surprised when I heard the songs, just how intricate it all sounds -- it fits together nicely.
Rachel: Thank you.
SCR: It's pretty impressive, especially for... Houston bands have a tendency to play as few instruments as they can as loudly as they can. So you guys are kind of a switch. [laughter]
Sara: The van, and the trailer, and the practice room, and how long it takes to set up and take down...
SCR: I'd bet, yeah.
Reggie: We were all about using as many instruments as possible and doing it as inefficiently as possible.
SCR: That works... The songwriting didn't go too easily?
Gretchen: Actually, originally we had one song when we started, 'cause [Rachel] brought it over to record. [to Rachel:] And I think you brought it and then you asked me to sing it, and I read it and I told you I wouldn't do it. So we had to twist your arm upside-down just to make you sing "Tie Me Up." Do you remember this?
Reggie: You really didn't want to sing it, at first.
Gretchen: But it came out wonderful.
Rachel: I'm not saying it didn't happen -- I'm just saying I don't remember. [laughter]
Reggie: Plausible deniability.
SCR: Do you each write the songs separately and bring them together, or...?
Anthony: Yeah, I mean, I write most of the songs... [laughter]
Rachel: The reason that's funny, for people not here, is that he's the drummer.
Reggie: Rachel has written the guts of most of the songs, and I wrote a couple of 'em, and one of 'em Gretchen and Rachel wrote together.
Anthony: Rachel would be the heart, um, Reggie's the brain...
Matt: Circulatory system!
Anthony: Gretchen is...
Sonia: The nervous system?
Anthony: ...the digestive tract.
Gretchen: The digestive tract? [laughs]
Anthony: And [Sara's] the skeletal system, and I'm pretty much the sphincter. [laughter]
Gretchen: That's part of my tract.
SCR: That's true; that is part of the digestive tract.
Reggie: You're jumping on her jurisdiction.
Gretchen: You can be the endocrine system. The glands, the one gland -- it's an important gland.
Matt: The lymphatic...?
SCR: How did the label end up getting started?
Matt: I'd been playing around in bands in Houston and stuff like that since the mid-'90s, just like little under-the-radar sort of bands here and there...
SCR: Which ones?
Matt: Fall Apart, Reservations For Two, Red Car Collision -- a bunch you've probably never heard of, 'cause they didn't last very long.
SCR: Red Car Collision sounds familiar.
Anthony: Yeah, it does.
Gretchen: They were that hair-metal band that all wore the make-up. And tutus.
Matt: But, ah, basically, out of a recognition of nothing going on supporting local bands, bringing them together -- instead you see bands trying to fight against each other and get out to make it. Where there's enough talent and there's enough people making awesome artwork in this space, that we could just utilize that, the way they did in Seattle and D.C. and all of that kind of stuff. So... That's been kind of a reoccurring thing, and y'know, Reggie...
Reggie: I was trying to start a record label, as well, and I met Matt and Amanda at about that time. And what I was trying to started falling apart, and what they were trying to do wasn't getting off the ground, and I needed what they had, and they needed what I had, pretty much.
Rachel: "With their powers combined..."
Reggie: By our powers combined, we're Captain Planet!
Gretchen: So they bought ring-pops, and the rest is...
Reggie: One is earth, one is wind, one is fire, one is heart.
SCR: Wait a minute -- I thought you were all the different parts of the body already?
Anthony: They were talking about the record label; that's a totally different story.
SCR: Ah, okay... I know it's difficult running a label...how's it been so far?
Matt: The real interesting thing is being an artist, as well as the label -- I'm sure Reggie knows all of this, y'know -- it's kind of crazy, because you kinda have to play from both sides. And that also makes you a lot fairer.
Reggie: Yeah. You're always working overtime, but you've always got your best interests in mind, because you are doing both.
SCR: It's not like one person here's trying to make money, and the other person over here's...
Reggie: It's just trying to keep a balance between making sure that the label has enough money to survive and that we're not screwing anybody over at the same time, y'know? 'Cause if the label falls apart, then nobody's going to have the money to press CDs or do anything like that, and then everybody's sunk. So it's kind of a big, communal thing where everybody has to go, "okay, well, we know we've gotta do this to make everything else work; just do it."
SCR: One thing feeds into another.
Matt: It helps all the other bands and stuff like that.
SCR: I liked the compilation you guys sent out; the different variety of bands. Did you know all of them before putting it out?
Reggie: Yeah, they were pretty much all the bands that were the initial... Y'know, not all of them have records out on Mia Kat Empire yet, but all of them are slated to in the near future. We picked the bands and then made the compilation out of what was already recorded and just said, "this'll be our first promotional tool, to let people know what's going on."
SCR: It was kind of a nice switch, because the last local compilation I'd heard was the Mustache Records one, I Hate It Here, I'll Never Leave, and those were mostly kind of the noisy/loud side of the spectrum. But the Mia Kat compilation seemed to be more lower-key, melodic kind of stuff.
Reggie: Yeah.
SCR: Was that sort of an intentional thing, the way all the bands sort of fit together?
Reggie: We already all knew each other and were already playing shows together. I was already recording half the bands and probably talking to the rest of them about doing recordings for them in the future anyway, so it was just kind of easy.
SCR: So you do all the recordings for the label?
Reggie: Yeah.
SCR: You don't do any of 'em at like Sugarhill or any place like that?
Reggie: No, I don't work out of any other studios. That's one of the things were looking for right now, is studio space. 'Cause I've kind of been running a guerilla operation, up to this point, going into people's houses and setting things up and work for a month and then leave.
Rachel: Puke up tomatoes.
Reggie: Puke up tomatoes in their yard, yeah. [laughter] For those of you that're eating...
Gretchen: Thanks.
SCR: I'm kind of surprised that you do sort of a living-room operation kind of thing. It doesn't sound like that.
Reggie: Space is only a very small part of it. Space and equipment are both, I think, a small part of it, if you just know what you want to do and how to use what you've got. Most of it, the recent stuff, was just recorded in a real tiny "dead" room, so there wasn't really any acoustics to deal with in the room. I just could do whatever I wanted to with it. But that's kind of part of the looking for studio space, too, 'cause I'm wanting to get a little more serious with that. 'Cause I've had a lot of people shy away, due to the lack of a "this is the recording studio"...
SCR: Lack of an established place -- I could see that...
Rachel: At the same time, that's part of the reason why I always recorded with you.
Reggie: Yeah; it's a double-edged sword.
Rachel: For my previous band. I guess that's how we technically met, was with my old band, and um...
SCR: What was the old band?
Reggie: Aw, yeah...
Gretchen: You've heard of Sonic Youth? [laughter]
Rachel: Yeah, let's leave it at that.
Reggie: The Pawnshop Junkies.
SCR: I remember the Pawnshop Junkies.
Rachel: No! [makes flashback noises]
SCR: Not in a bad way... I don't think I ever actually saw 'em play.
Reggie: Everybody looks back to their previous project and goes... [shrugs sheepishly]
Anthony: I love my previous project. Sorry, guys. [laughter]
Rachel: But that's how I met him, 'cause we needed somebody to record, and we'd already had really bad experience being in a studio with...people who shouldn't've had a studio but had a studio, y'know? Had the money, but no brains?
SCR: I probably shouldn't ask who it was.
Reggie/Rachel: [in unison] No. No...
Rachel: Well, there was a couple of 'em. So some people had really good experience, some more questionable. But that's how we met him, and we just kinda said, "okay, stranger -- come record our stuff."
Gretchen: And eat lots of tomatoes and throw up on the lawn...
Reggie: We'll have to tell you the tomato story later. It's not dinner talk.
SCR: Ah, okay -- we don't want to make anybody sick. So I was wondering, actually, since you guys started out up there...not to come back to the Kingwood thing, but I was just kind of curious what it's like up there for bands?
Anthony: [laughs]
SCR: I've never lived north of Houston, so I don't know what it's like out in that area.
Rachel: "Somewhere, out there..."
Gretchen: You don't tell anyone up there that you're in a band.
Sara: Kingwood's covered only the living situation and the recording situation; that's all that it did for this band.
Reggie: Although...Hollywood Black is pretty much from Kingwood, and The Ride Home is from Kingwood, and Rhinestone Fargus is from Kingwood, and we're pretty much Humble/Kingwood area. The Nautical Mile and the Mayapples...
SCR: The bands are all from there?
Anthony: Buxton, they're from La Porte.
Matt: Well, some of 'em -- now Sergio and Amanda [Trevino] live down in Montrose.
Reggie: Yeah; they're migrating this direction. We're all magnetizing to the center.
SCR: It happens like that.
Reggie: Part of it, too, was just wanting to move down here -- if we're gonna be based out of Houston, we want to be close to the scene and everything that's going on. Have easy access to it.
Gretchen: And I just love the Heights...
SCR: I mean, that's a long car drive.
Reggie: It's a really long car drive when you're drunk. [laughter]
Matt: I guess a lot of the reason why so many bands and things are starting just has to do with suburban boredom. People who, y'know, you don't play sports, you don't get in choir in high school, whatever -- you're pretty much worthless, what do you do? You buy some instruments and start a band.
Gretchen: Well, everything up there is so close, except for downtown.
Matt: Right. It's not like there's a huge chasm. There's like some all-age teenybopper sort of place that started out there, there's mainly like fourteen- or fifteen-year-olds, y'know...
Reggie: But you've got college-age people, too -- I mean, some, 'cause there's a couple of community colleges out that way. We had that first show... We did a showcase that was on November 25th last year, and it was at the Fuel Cybercafe, which only holds about 400 people, and we had like between 300 and 350 show up for it. And there was a pretty good mix of age groups. There was a lot of kids, but there was a lot of college-age people and people that don't usually show up there.
Sara: A fair amount of adults also go out there with their children; it's more of a family-oriented place.
Reggie: We're not allowed to say a lot of the words on the record at Fuel.
Gretchen: We probably could... [laughter]
Matt: There's like that little tiny thing up there, and then there's like this huge chasm of nothingness, and then there's Houston.
Reggie: Yeah.
SCR: There's a lot of space in between.
Reggie: A lot of bad space in between.
Matt: Perhaps you could consider the north part a "satellite." [laughter] In orbit.
SCR: What you were saying about the suburban boredom kind of made sense to me. The funny thing was when I was listening to the sampler and to you guys' songs, what it really reminded me of was all those Saddle Creek bands from Omaha and that area, which kind of formed out of the same sort of thing. I mean, they're stuck in the middle of Nebraska, so y'know -- in this case, stuck in the middle of suburban Texas.
Matt: Yep. And we all kinda knew each other, because you all end up playing at the same places, you're gonna meet everybody out there that's doing something interesting after a while.
Rachel: That's kind of where The Western Civilization came from. I was branching out and starting my own project, mainly with Reg. And Reggie had his own solo project going, and Gretchen did, too.
The Western Civilization pic #2
(l to r) O'Farrell, Matt Ellis, Amanda Ellis, Sonia Parga. Photo by J. Hart.
SCR: [to Gretchen] You put out an album recently, too, right?
Gretchen: Yeah.
Rachel: So we kinda just...
Reggie: ...just got together and were just really doing it for fun, at first. We never meant to do anything serious with it, until we were about five songs into it and they were like, "wow, this is pretty good -- we should do something." [laughs]
SCR: So how serious is this?
Reggie: Now it's really serious.
Rachel: Über-serious.
SCR: This isn't just sort of a hobby thing anymore?
Reggie: No, this is like for the long haul.
Gretchen: Well, we're all broke and he's homeless, and we're still really gung-ho about it. [laughter]
Reggie: We're not slowing down any time soon. We actually have somebody working on a national tour right now.
SCR: Really?
Reggie: If you know Bucky who used to be part of Hands Up! Houston, he's actually working on a national tour for us right now.
SCR: Cool; I'd heard he was back booking shows.
Gretchen: Yeah.
Reggie: That will happen in August.
Gretchen: He's the definition of efficiency.
SCR: They did a really good job of bringing bands to town.
Reggie: After going through probably five people at this point, that we had talked to about booking for us, that flaked out, and sitting down with somebody and showing them a list of cities and have 'em tear it apart and tell you that it was all bad ideas and completely rearrange the whole thing to pick new cities for you because they know what's going on...that's a good feeling.
Gretchen: And down to like, y'know, bookshops along the way that we should check out and excellent burrito joints that we should walk into and places that'll give us food at the back door like on Lady and the Tramp, and...
SCR: Yes... You get like a little manual as you go?
Reggie: Yeah. He's gonna give us The Bucky Travel Guide for America. [laughter]
SCR: So you've got the new album that's out now. I guess beyond the tour, what're the plans?
Rachel: Concept album! [laughter]
Sara: She's not even kidding.
Reggie: Go on tour again, and then again, and then again, and then again, and again.
Sara: We're doing a Coheed and Cambria tribute album.
Rachel: No, we're not... No. Strike that.
Reggie: I guess the plan's pretty much just to tour off and on until we make another album. I guess that's how it's supposed to work.
Rachel: Find Reggie a home.
SCR: That's pretty major...
Reggie: Yeah.
SCR: Are you guys still liking the songs that're on this album, now?
Rachel: This is the only album that I've ever made with anybody -- other than in my own head -- that I've actually wanted to listen to. Y'know? I don't know if y'all've ever been in any bands like...you put in the CD of stuff that you've done and go, "um..." You pick apart every time your voice...
Reggie: Every time you show it to somebody, you give the disclaimer before you put it in.
Gretchen: "I was only really on the first two..." [laughter]
Reggie: This is definitely the same thing for me.
Gretchen: We're not tired of playing the songs yet 'cause the way it worked out, we were writing in the studio. We literally finished the album right before it went to pressing, so we've only played some of the songs live one time, just at the release. So I think it's more that we're excited to be able to play the entire record, now.
Reggie: Yeah, that's true. Before it was kind of in part but now it's the whole thing, from start to finish.
[Here the tape recorder batteries begin to die and the tape dissolves into screechy high-pitched voices, a la Supergrass's "We're Not Supposed To". Most of what ended up sounding like a hyperspeed Alvin & the Chipmunks re-run was chit-chat about what everybody did for their day job. After a quick run to the Stop & Go up the block, we're back to it.]
SCR: [to Gretchen:] Are you a substitute teacher?
Gretchen: I'm a kindergarten teacher.
Reggie: Ah, yeah -- we were still doing the occupation question.
Gretchen: Oh, yeah. Yeah...
Matt: Where do you work, Sara?
Sara: I worked at Guitar Center for a long time, with Rachel and Anthony for a little while. And then earlier this year, I left and went to a guitar parts company, basically. Called Allparts, and based out of Houston.
SCR: I haven't heard of that one.
Sara: I went from being at the store to being at the vendor.
Reggie: They have a whole lot of replacement parts for guitars and stuff, like ridiculous -- anything you could possibly imagine.
Sara: Yeah.
Anthony: Do they have pots? Do they have pans? [laughter]
Rachel: Spatulas...
Reggie: And I record and produce local bands, I guess. Or anybody who'd be willing to drive to Houston, pretty much. And help run the label during the day. And work as a freelance video editor, sometimes.
SCR: Where do you work at for that?
Reggie: Different places. I have a couple of different companies that hire me to do stuff whenever they have projects and need help. I worked for a guy for a little while, like for nine months, and he pretty much taught me how to do it, and then I left. Because recording work got up to where I was getting enough of it where it was actually hurting me more to work for him than it was helping, because I didn't have enough time to do the projects that were gonna pay me more money.
SCR: So you've been able to actually make a living doing the recording stuff?
Reggie: Yeah. But only because I've cut my bills to pretty much almost nothing.
SCR: Not having a house would help...
Reggie: Including rent. [laughs]
Gretchen: I just kind of bounce back and forth between full-time and substitute teaching, depending on when schools are in or out or...
Rachel: [points to Sara] She went to Berklee.
Sara: Okay...
SCR: Cool.
Rachel: Not the California Berkeley.
SCR: No, I figured the music one.
Rachel: Did the Rush give it away, and the Dream Theater...? [laughter]
Gretchen: And the fact that she knows all the Super Mario Brothers tunes on the bass.
Sara: Okay, that's not related at all.
Gretchen: Or everything that I play on the piano.
Sara: I have a really ridiculous ear, I guess.
Sonia: She can tell you the pitch of a doorbell. She's ridiculous.
Rachel: A car alarm, a phone ringing.
Sonia: Yeah.
SCR: I used to be in a band with a guy like that; it made me mad.
Sara: The things that shouldn't really bother you sometimes really bother you, y'know?
Gretchen: Like in practice?
Sara: If a song's like two beats per minute off, I'll notice it and I'll know that it's gonna drive me nuts. Sometimes I'm kind of a pain in the ass with it, because...
Anthony: Especially when it's onstage and she's like... [makes grimace, looks around] And I'm like, "don't do that -- everyone can see you!" [laughter]
SCR: I need to start bringing a video camera. Could you do that headbob thing again, by the way? That was impressive.
Reggie: This seems to be a theme, so far. We're only on number two of our little recorded interviews-slash-whatever-type things are always full of ridiculous amounts of laughter and making fun, jokes...
Rachel: That's us together.
SCR: It means you're having fun with the band.
Reggie: We did the thing on KTRU...
Anthony: Most of the time, we didn't even know we were on the air?
SCR: Pretty much par for the course for KTRU.
Rachel: The poor guy that interviewed us came in and said, "please do not cuss."
SCR: What show were you on?
Rachel: "The Discovery Report." And, uh, the first word we said when we popped on the air, you heard Gretchen, of all people in the band, the one whose soul is shinier than anything...
Gretchen: I don't want to incriminate myself!
Reggie: It's over now.
Gretchen: What happened was, the guy's like, "okay, so you know you can't advertise, you can't ask people to come to your CD release, you can't do this..."
Rachel: "You can't say anybody is awesome," which we totally did.
Gretchen: "And you cannot curse."
SCR: They'd get fined.
Gretchen: And they're a nonprofit, so... So we're like, okay, we can handle this, y'know, we have this in the bag. So we start the first song, and my guitar's off. And the microphone's right here, so I lean over the microphone and look for my pedal to turn it on. And I was just like, "shit!"
Sara: That was the first word.
SCR: Did he mute you guys, switch to a CD or something?
Gretchen: No.
Rachel: Did they mention that at all?
Reggie: Maybe your mic was turned on real low at that point, 'cause the first song seemed kind of off.
Gretchen: I hope so...
Anthony: Yeah, it was weird; you could hear him bringing the levels up as we're playing.
Reggie: So you got saved by that.
Gretchen: I'd bring down Rice radio...
Reggie: One of the DJs came in, and he was asking us, y'know, "do a tagline -- say, you know, this is The Western Civilization, and you're listening to KTRU." And we're on the air at this point -- he doesn't tell us, we think he's prepping us first and then he'll say "go."
Sara: Oh, really? I didn't know that!
Reggie: And that whole time, we were on the air.
Gretchen: "Dude, maybe we should all say one word? No, that's not right..."
Anthony: "How do you want us to do it?" He's like, "oh, you can do it however you want." And we're all just looking at each othe, going "hmm" for like five minutes. And we're on the air the whole time. Then from the other room, we hear, "You're on the air!"
Gretchen: "You're listening to the Spastic Band, on..."
Rachel: "This is dead air, on KTRU." [makes static noise] I think there's a lot of that there. [makes static noise + screeching cat sound]
SCR: I worked there for a few years, and it was kinda like that.
Rachel: Random cat noises for 20 minutes...
SCR: One of the first things I ever played was Diamanda Galas, which was this opera thing that basically sounded like a woman screaming in Latin while beating a cat against a garbage can.
Sonia: No way...
SCR: It was three in the morning and storming outside, and I'm just sitting there going, "oh, dear God -- I'm never playing that again..." [laughter]
Sonia: My friend Joy met this guy who has a techno band -- which is just him, but he's recorded different cats meowing, and he syncs them to make a beat of those meowing cats. And then he puts choruses of meowing cats in the background. It's like techno to cats.
SCR: Dear God...
Sonia: And I wish I knew the name of that guy...
Reggie: This is the problem with digital technology. [laughter] It's a double-edged sword.
Sonia: You should produce him! [everyone devolves into imitations of cat techno/Meow Mix commercials]
SCR: I'm afraid I don't have any actual questions left, so...
Gretchen: Does anyone know if you can have a goat, actually? 'Cause I want one pretty badly. [laughter]
Anthony: Yes.
Amanda Ellis: You don't want that.
Gretchen: No, I do, I do! I do. We can't afford a lawnmower, but I have easy access to a goat.
Rachel: Well, can you afford for one to lick the paint off your car? Because goats will do that.
SCR: Goats don't really stop when the lawn's cut...
Rachel: A goat ate my hair once, when I was a little kid. I swear on everything; I was sitting in the yard, and that goat was licking the paint off the car. And then he jumped off of this '88 Impala my mom had and walked over and went "arr!" and started biting -- it ate my little ponytail. So he started chewing on my ponytail, and I was like, "Mom!"
Sara: Didn't your dad come out running and...
Rachel: No, that was when the horse ate my hair.
SCR: You have a long history of farm animals eating your hair?
Rachel: I had really blonde hair; maybe they thought it was hay, or hair, I dunno. But that goat freaked me out. I've never liked goats, ever since then.
SCR: They're unpredictable. They've got weird eyes.
Gretchen: But they're so cute when they're little. My friend when I was a kid had a goat named Oreo, 'cause his butt was black and then his head and front legs were black and his middle was white. [laughter] He had like a cream center; he was adorable.
Anthony: The thing about a goat, you know, they've got a lifeless eye -- like a doll's eye...
SCR: They're shaped weirdly; they're like an hourglass eye.
Anthony: Right! Like in the middle of it...
SCR: But to each their own.
Gretchen: We could do a sheep... We would never have to buy yarn for knitting again.
Rachel: Y'know, what, Gretchen? If y'all get all that hippie on me, then I'm not gonna talk to y'all.
Reggie: Also when we were on KTRU, they compared Gretchen to George Harrison. That was fun.
Sara: They compared us to the Beatles, and she was like George Harrison.
SCR: The quiet Beatle?
Reggie: Yeah. I dunno -- we still haven't heard the radio show yet, so we don't know exactly what went down.
SCR: Did they tape-record it?
Reggie: Yeah; they record everything to a hard drive, and then they can get it to you if you want it.
SCR: They have to, probably, for legal reasons.
Reggie: Probably.
Rachel: [to Reggie] Have you heard it?
Reggie: No.
Sonia: We haven't gotten it yet.
Reggie: The wheels turn slow.
Sonia: The wheels turn so slow...
Sara: How do we get it?
Rachel: Aren't we playing another one of those shows?
Reggie: Another radio show?
Rachel: Yep. The Sugarhill deal?
SCR: Ah, the Sugarhill Sessions?
Sonia: Gina from the Sugarhill Sessions, she's talking to us right now about that. And then KPFT, Phil and Rhonda are always looking for new people to come on their show. So I met them, and they like the sound of Mia Kat and want to start having some Mia Kat bands on.
SCR: How did the [CD] release go, by the way?
Sonia: Good.
Reggie: The release went awesome.
Sara: It was a really good show.
The Western Civilization pic #2
(l to r) O'Farrell, Hansbro, Schillaci, Carter, Schmaltz. Photo by J. Hart.
SCR: Pretty well-attended?
Reggie: There was a little over a hundred people.
Gretchen: Yeah, it felt good -- there was lots of positive energy.
Rachel: It was a really fun show.
Anthony: [to SCR] Hey, what's your name?
SCR: Me?
Anthony: Yep.
Rachel/Gretchen: [in unison] Jeremy.
Anthony: Uh-oh.
Sara: He drew a picture.
SCR: He did? Oh, dear...
Sonia: We'll totally have to scan this and put it on the Website.
Gretchen: [to SCR] As a teacher, it could come out good or bad, so you just smile and say, "thank you very much."
Sara: [reading the drawing] "Jemeremy"? "Jamiroquai"? [laughter]
SCR: I've never gotten that one...
Anthony: [to SCR] I made this for you. [hands over a hand-drawn picture of everybody at the table]
SCR: Thank you! Aww... [laughter]
Gretchen: "Jemeremy". "Jimeremy"!
SCR: I like the little people holding different instruments.
Sonia: Let me see that?
Anthony: I am totally not finished.
Rachel: This is totally our picture.
Reggie: That's gonna be our press shot.
Rachel: Is that a microphone that I'm holding? I've never held a microphone in my life... I haven't, I mean, not like standing up and holding it.
Anthony: I'm not finished.
Rachel: Okay...
SCR: I guess I asked who was in the band earlier, but I didn't really get who plays what and who sings and all that. So...
Anthony: I play drums.
Reggie: Anthony plays drums, Sara plays bass.
Sonia: Rachel, electric, acoustic guitar.
Rachel: And tambourines.
Gretchen: And noises!
Rachel: Okay, I play the tambourine and the shaker and and the clapping and the screaming...
Reggie: We all play a lot of things back and forth, too. Like the recording, there's a lot of instrument-swapping that doesn't happen at the shows and stuff. And Gretchen plays keyboards and acoustic guitar and sings.
Rachel: She drives the Schmaltzmobile.
Reggie: Yeah. We've got her trapped into this thing... Since on this recording we ended up using a lot of keyboards and weird random sounds, things like that, and wanted to be able to recreate it, so I came up with a little "station" for her. It's got a piano-slash-organ and a MIDI controller that's hooked up to a laptop.
Gretchen: And a mixer.
Reggie: Yeah.
Rachel: And there's a pedal board below...
Gretchen: Which goes back to a volume pedal, and then goes to an amp.
Rachel: And then you've got your acoustic guitar.
Gretchen: And the acoustic guitar.
Reggie: And now we've added a mixer.
Gretchen: We had to build like this crazy, fun pedal board.
Sara: [to Rachel] Yeah, you've got lots of pedals, too.
Reggie: And then at the shows I play electric guitar and acoustic guitar.
Gretchen: And the glockenspiel!
Sara: The glockenspiel is a very prominent instrument.
Reggie: That actually just happened because I happened to be borrowing one, just to mess around with it, when we started recording the songs, and so we just ended up...
SCR: How did you find a glockenspiel?
Reggie: Just a friend of mine had one.
Rachel: He's got people.
Reggie: The kid from Rhinestone Fargus, he plays...well, he writes classical music. On the side.
Sara: Seriously.
Reggie: So he's got a lot of random instruments laying around his house, and it came from him -- they found it at a pawnshop for thirty-five dollars. And they weren't using it, so I was like, "I'm taking this." I took it back to my apartment and just messed around with it. I was actually about to give it back, and then we started working on these songs, and it ended up being on 'em.
SCR: [looking at Anthony's drawing] "Sonia the Detroyer" -- I like that.
Rachel: Grrr!
Sonia: Yeah, I don't know what I'm destroying.
Gretchen: You have very sharp teeth!
Rachel: Sharp, pointy teeth...
Gretchen: Sharp, pointy teeth!
SCR: Everybody's smiling but Sonia.
Sara: That's 'cause she's the Destroyer.
Gretchen: Aww, I think it's cute -- she has little glasses.
SCR: Where's the "Mia Kat" from, anyway?
Amanda: That's our cat.
SCR: It's your cat? Okay.
Matt: Her name is Mia -- if you haven't guessed that.
Sonia: She owns Mia Kat.
Matt: She is a part owner.
SCR: She puts up the money?
Matt: She does. I'm not gonna tell you how she gets it, but... [laughter]
SCR: Cats have their ways.
Matt: Yeah, they do.
Rachel: [looking at Anthony's drawing] I have a belly showing...
Anthony: You're wearing daisy dukes.
Rachel: My crotch is literally showing. [laughter]
Gretchen: On Reggie's chest, it says "Booty."
Anthony: Aww, yeah.
Sara: [handing Anthony's drawing to SCR] Here you go.
SCR: [to Sara] Uh-oh...did you want to make any changes?
Sara: Oh, no; I wasn't.
Matt: It's the director's cut.
SCR: Can I have this? Do you want it back?
Anthony: Nope, it's for you.
Matt: Put it on your refrigerator.
SCR: I'm gonna put it on the Website. [laughter]
Rachel: That would be great...
Reggie: That would rock.
Rachel: Can you put an inkblot over my crotch that's like, y'know...
Reggie: "Censored"?
Sonia: Wait a minute...if this is gonna be on the Internet, I don't wanna be "the Destroyer".
Anthony: Fine!
Matt: "Sonia the Lovable Destroyer."
Gretchen: "The Amiable Destroyer"...
SCR: We actually had a review of The Darkness when they came to town... It was a really good article, so we got a hold of their PR people and the band, and we're like, "hey, can we get a press photo to go with this article?" And they were like, "sure -- it'll cost you $70."
Rachel: What?
SCR: So I said, "screw that," and I drew one. Y'know, with jaggy lines and lightning writing.
Sonia: They charged you for a picture? I was gonna make you cookies... Good lord.
Reggie: She wasn't even gonna charge you for 'em.
Sonia: Yeah, I know!
SCR: Free cookies are good.
Sonia: [to Anthony] Okay, what'd you do to me, here.
Anthony: I gave you a Buster Sword. From Final Fantasy 7. [laughter]
Sonia: That makes me a little more lovable, I guess.
Gretchen: Wow...it's like Excalibur!
Sonia: I'm the most menacing character in the whole group.
SCR: [to Sonia] So, how did you end up being part of the label, then?
Sonia: Oh, gosh...
Sara: She owns The Western Civilization. [laughter]
SCR: The power behind the throne, there?
Sonia: They're mine, really -- like people who own baseball teams? I own bands. They're gonna take care of me in my old age.
SCR: When it doesn't work out, you'll trade 'em to a different city?
Reggie: Yeah...
Sonia: When you're starting an indie label, I think it's really important to have people who'll do things for either free or as little money as you can afford to give them. And that'd be me. I love every single person involved in this whole group, and every band, everybody who makes art for us and we have that on the Website, anybody who is related to this community at all, they're my best friends. And I love them and will trade that love for hours and hours of sweatshop labor.
Matt: We'd be real screwed if it wasn't for Sonia. She's awesome.
Sonia: Thanks...
The Western Civilization pic #3
Picture by Anthony Schillaci.
SCR: So you're the full-time member of the Mia Kat group?
Sonia: Yeah.
Rachel: She's a pretty good cook.
Reggie: I'm pretty full-time, too, but I do completely different things.
Sonia: I think everybody works as much as they possibly can when it comes to this label.
SCR: Yeah? I was gonna ask if you had sort of a separation of duties, like who did what generally for the label.
Reggie: We kinda do. Amanda does -- thank God -- all the bookkeeping and accounting, because if that was up to me, we would be getting tracked down by the IRS. And our bank account would probably be in default. We'd have unpaid credit cards and God knows what else.
Matt: She's very good at doing that.
Sonia: We would owe an Italian man named Tito our vital organs. [laughter]
Gretchen: "Look, guys -- we just bought this giant warehouse..."
Sonia: "...I have no more kidneys."
Gretchen: "Why are you bleeding, Reggie?"
Sara: [to Matt] What do you do? I don't know what you do for the label, either.
SCR: Are you The Money, then?
Sonia: You feed the cats.
Rachel: For me, he's the motivational speaker. He's always like, "back when Fugazi was first a band...," y'know?
Reggie: Matt's our resident historian of arcane music knowledge.
Anthony: Matt's probably the most badass person I've ever met.
Rachel: Pretty much.
Anthony: I don't know him that well, but man, this guy is into so many cool things, like...
Matt: We still have to go do that fossil hunting trip.
Anthony: Fossil hunting, the Bigfoot film...
Matt: The Bigfoot film we're gonna make, it's gonna be called Cupid Sasquatch, and basically it's about two cryptozoologists who fall in love while tracking Bigfoot across the United States.
Anthony: He used words like, my favorite one's "cryptozoology." I Wikipedia that least once or twice a month, to see if there's any new developments.
Matt: I try and keep an eye occasionally on some inventory; inventory's pretty crazy, with so many CDs and things like that.
SCR: How many releases do you guys have out now?
Matt: The three, plus the compilation.
Reggie: Plus Rhinestone Fargus.
Matt: And Rhinestone Fargus.
Reggie: Four are for sale, and one for giveaway.
Matt: And that one for giveaway, we are almost out. We've got about seven...
Reggie: The way it mostly breaks down is Sonia does all the talking to other people, all the PR work, all the calling the people that none of us would have the courage to call without knowing them, probably.
Rachel: And we're not polite enough to be social that often.
Sonia: I do like cold-calling people; it's fun. If you ever need crack cocaine in Sandusky, Ohio, I know a guy.
Reggie: Yeah; she's had all kinds of offers.
Sonia: I've had a lot of very strange chance meetings with people over the phone.
Reggie: She does all that, and Amanda and Matt take care of most of the accounting stuff and the inventory stuff, and are really about to be our sole providers of money. Then we get together and decide what to do, and I try to do whatever I can during the day, and Sonia does whatever she can during the day, and then days when they're off, they do whatever they can during the day.
Matt: Basically, we never sleep.
SCR: It sounds like a lot of work.
Reggie: It's an operation that, if any one gear fell out of it, would probably fall apart.
Matt: Or be lovingly replaced. Not "replaced," but put back together. "Replaced" was the wrong word. [to SCR:] Turn that off! [laughter] I mean, I don't really see a way that anything would ever fly apart, at least on a relational level -- which is where this all started out, anyway. We all started out as friends, just loving and believing in a common cause.
Reggie: Inevitably, we had somebody give us money to start the record label. That was big.
Matt: Right.
Sonia: That's where "Mia" comes in.
Reggie: Yeah -- Mia's a trust fund baby. [laughter]
Matt: She knows he's awesome.
Sonia: We are very grateful to our generous benefactor.
Reggie: Our silent partner. He just kinda saw what we were trying to do, and we were struggling, trying to figure out where to get money to start up and all that stuff. Like, "well, you guys obviously have a good idea of what you want to do and are passionate about trying to do it, so...here you go; let's see what happens."
SCR: I have to admit, I kind of wondered. Because, I mean, the releases I've seen so far have sounded and looked really, really professional, top of the line, and that's hard to do without spending a lot of money. Or at least a fair amount of it.
Gretchen: I think you guys as a whole are really scrappy about finding resources, y'know?
Reggie: My biggest job is just recording and producing the band. Taking care of the pressing and all that stuff, making sure that that all gets done and we get the CDs before the CD release...
Sonia: Like, the day before the CD release? [laughter]
Matt: And I think we should also mention our other member, who is slaving away at the academic pursuits on the West Coast, out at Biola University. He's the guy who writes symphonies in his spare time.
Reggie: Rhinestone Fargus.
Matt: He's our West Coast, ah... West Coast reprazent!
Reggie: He's our partner that doesn't get to be around most of the time. He'll be here in the next couple of days.
Matt: We're gonna have him for...
Reggie: ...for the good time to have him.
Rachel: The moving!
Anthony: "Welcome home! Carry this couch!" [laughter]
Matt: We'll have to throw him a party, though. Take some time out of all of the craziness to say "hi" to him.
Sonia: I love our Mia Kat parties. [to SCR:] You should come to one of our Mia Kat parties!
Reggie: The stomping and clapping on one of the songs on the album, on "The Sun Will Rise," is actually from a Mia Kat Empire party. We originally recorded it at my old apartment, with Rachel stomping in my bathtub with a pair of bowling shoes and me and Gretchen and Rachel getting in front of one microphone and clapping like sixty times over to make it sound like a whole bunch of people. And then we ended up re-doing it -- we had a big party for Hollywood Black's release, to kind of congratulate them and to just have a party, just because we were looking for a reason to have a party. And at the time, I was staying at a house that was empty down there -- not squatting, but... Actually, the people that I was staying with moved out, and they hadn't sold the house yet, so I was still kinda staying there.
Rachel: He's a gutter punk. [laughs]
Gretchen: He was keeping an eye on the place.
Reggie: So we had a big wooden living room, and we just trucked the whole party down, marched them like half a mile through the neighborhood.
Matt: It was awesome. We're walking through the neighborhood all dressed...
Sonia: With beer, and just rowdy and belligerent.
Reggie: And we got 'em all down there, just had everybody stomping and clapping on there, so that's what ended up on the record.
Sonia: We actually have that on film somewhere -- we need to find out where that is, 'cause I'm sure it'd be fun to watch.
Matt: That was a fun night. People were coming out and looking all in their yard...
Rachel: We were on parade!
Reggie: We really needed a flag. Like the one on the logo?
Anthony: Let's get one made...
Matt: I was just saying, we're up in Kingwood, where everybody has their flag on their house, we should totally have a black Mia Kat Empire flag.
Anthony: It is Kingwood. You do know you'd get, like, taken to court over it?
Rachel: Yep. They'd write a nasty note on it.
Matt: Well, that's another good reason for moving operations. We recently heard about a property owner who took an artist to court. She shows in galleries not in Kingwood, but they found out she was selling paintings and that her paintings were being done in her home. You're not allowed to run a business out of your home.
SCR: Oh, God...
Reggie: Yes, they actually do that.
Matt: And this is an artist who's painting -- imagine what they would do to a recording studio and screenprint operation running out of a house.
SCR: It's a little noisier.
Sara: They would burn things in your yard.
Sonia: "They've got our Mia Kat flag! Oh, no!"
Anthony: It would be like in the movies, where you come out the front door and there's pitchforks.
Rachel: "Give us the producer!" [laughter]
SCR: You'd hand Reggie over to them?
Matt: "Let them take somebody else -- we need an extra!"
Rachel: "How do you know he's a musician?" "He's got shit all over him!" [laughter]
Matt: That's for the guys on the original Star Trek series in the red uniforms.
Reggie: The extras?
Matt: They always get killed, like in the first five minutes.
Gretchen: Expendable...
Matt: Y'know what I mean? Captain Kirk's like, "Ensign, you're coming with me." "Ah, crap..."
Gretchen: What episode is it when one of the star troopers is coming one of the tunnels and he hits his head on the top of it, and they just kept filming?
Anthony: That's Star Wars.
Matt: Yeah -- this is Star Trek.
Anthony: You can actually hear it. [makes crashing sound]
Gretchen: I wonder if we'll ever hear from the person that got the little Anthony "ghost" in our CD?
Reggie: All the inserts that're in The Western Civilization CDs, they're little individual pieces of paper that're paper-clipped together that have the lyrics on 'em. So we had to hand-collate all of those, for 2000 copies of a record. That's 20,000 little pieces of paper that had to be collated, and then I had to drive 'em up to Dallas myself to bring 'em to the pressing place. And Anthony wrote something on the back of one of sheets...what was it?
Rachel: "For a good time..."
Gretchen: Which song was it?
Reggie: "Letters of Resignation".
Anthony: Yeah. "This copy of the CD, Letters of Resignation..."
Gretchen: "...is worth more than all the others, because Anthony Schillaci said so."
Rachel: And then he put his phone number on it. [laughter]
Gretchen: It was something that ended with "bitches."
Anthony: Yeah, I remember that.
Rachel: It's probably going to go to one of our family members...
Sonia: When I opened up my copy of The Western Civilization, that was the first thing I looked for.
Sara: It's kind of like a "golden ticket" kind of thing.
SCR: I'll wait 'til I get home.
Reggie: You might be the lucky winner!
Anthony: You might be...
Rachel: I'm telling you, my mom's gonna be the one to get it. If I give her a CD. Or my grandma's gonna open one -- "what the heck does this say? 'Bitches'? Huh? Rachel..."
Matt: "That one wasn't meant for you!"
Anthony: That was installment number one.
Gretchen: "It was 'beaches'! 'Beaches'!"
Rachel: "That's my friend Sally; her last really is 'Bitches,' okay? I promise, just gimme that back..." END